Photo by Olu Eletu on Unsplash

Why Project Managers should start Businesses.

I waited to start a business because I didn’t think I was an entrepreneur.

Whatever that means.

My comfort zone was (and actually, is) project management. I was quite comfortable as an ops guy in a tech company. Not creating or selling, but keeping plans on the rails to reality.

There were times when the idea of running my own show crossed my mind. But I quickly dismissed the notion.

Entrepreneurs captivate with outsized dreams á la Elon Musk, or are brilliantly technical with clairvoyance and tenacity that borderlines on pathological, like Steve Jobs.

They are people who feed off risk.

I’m none of those.

Then a funny thing happened and three months ago I started working for myself.

I now run my own content development and communications strategy business. I work primarily with technology and financial service companies and ghostwrite for executive leaders.

I didn’t start this on a whim, although it was a leap financially. While working a full-time job in tech, my days would start at 5:00 am and I’d write and cold pitch until 7:00 am. After breakfast with my wife and kids, I commuted to the office and repeated for months.

It was always a side gig. I never really gave credence to the full time potential because — duh. I’m not entrepreneurial.

Until, I realized: not only could I one day do this, I was doing it.

The Project Manager Advantage.

It didn’t matter that I had never delivered a rousing TED talk and didn’t know the difference between JSON and Ruby. My skills, and more than that, my wiring weren’t deficiencies to overcome, but advantages to embrace.

Going off media portrayal you’d think hubris, panache and a larger-than-life personality are table stakes for an entrepreneurial existence. We — the reasonably mild project management and ops folks — simply don’t have it. But my slow build and ultimate leap left me with a deep conviction -

Businesses aren’t successful by virtue of slick sales, branding, or a well-crafted product alone. They’re successful when intelligent, thoughtful, non-impetuous people craft a plan and methodically move, step by step, to completion.

This is the boring truth of success.

It’s unnecessarily inhibitive to overvalue sales or technical skills. And the dirty little secret is that these crafts are learnable. While technical skills were once the competitive moat that kept would-be-entrepreneurs at bay, digital access to heaps of affordable talent have made technical skill deficiency one of the easier challenges to solve for.

Despite it being a most terror-inducing art to the ops crowd, sales isn’t actually a personality description. Selling is about understanding someone’s need and connecting what you do in a valuable way. You can be quiet, simple and introvert and still sell well.

The polish and tactical brazenness of well trained sales people certainly helps. But it’s not why deals get done.

There’s a question posed on Quora, “Do project managers make great entrepreneurs?” One respondent, said -

“Many traditional project managers might have difficulty in an entrepreneur role. Many traditional project management roles are based heavily on planning and control with an emphasis on managing costs and schedules of projects with well-defined requirements. In an uncertain environment, that doesn’t work very well and can lead to a rigid and inflexible approach that meets cost and schedule goals but fails to deliver business value.”

While I believe this thinking is flawed, more concerning is that it is a limiting belief held by project managers themselves. We have convinced ourselves that we are too linear; categorically lacking creativity and salesmanship.

But what other role has the breadth of interaction, requires the level of relational adaptability, or is expected to be as value added, with more immediacy, across the obscurest pockets of a company than a project manager?

We don’t own budgets and rarely possess hierarchical authority to enforce progress. The emotional intellect and social savvy required to motivate others to act is wildly under-appreciated.

A project is like a business.

I don’t know a project, or business, that was scripted and planned and ultimately executed exactly as such. Analytical rigor, course correction and on-the-fly decision making to sustain momentum IS the nature of project management

Project managers don’t get distracted by quirky features. Quota attainment, performance and egos don’t monopolize our quarter end behaviors.

Our scorecard is progress.

Business Insider published a post, “17 Traits that Distinguish the Best Startup CEOs”. A few of the criteria included are: stays focused, is resilient, listens and acts, is good at convincing other people.

Hmmm. Sounds like a good project manager.

So, to the project managers and the operationally inclined: we have what it takes.

You may not want to ever start a business. But if you do, you can.